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Free Study Guide-When The Legends Die by Hal Borland- Free Book Notes
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PLOT STRUCTURE ANALYSIS

The plot of the novel is developed in a traditional manner for a coming of age story. In the beginning, the history of Thomas Black Bull is given. His mother and father are introduced, and his Ute way of life in the wild is presented. The rising action really begins when he is orphaned and forced to live in town and attend school, which makes him miserable. To escape his dreary existence, he accepts Red Dillonís offer to become a bronco rider in the rodeo. For years he travels with Red from rodeo to rodeo, making his boss lots of money and making himself miserable. After Red dies and he injures himself in the rodeo arena, Tom finally returns to the land of his heritage. There he finds himself after the climatic moment when the All-Mother appears to him and claims him as her own. The falling action shows him embracing his heritage and previous Ute lifestyle. At the end of the novel he has find himself and peace.


The novel is divided into four parts, each divulging information about the life of Thomas Black Bull. Part I, "Bessie," deals with his life with his mother on the reservation and in the wild. She has a tremendous influence on her son, for she teaches him about Ute customs and gives him many skills, making him self- sufficient. As long as Bessie is alive, Tom is at peace with himself and happy with his life. After his parentsí deaths, Tom is forced from his life in the wild.

Part II of the novel is entitled "The School," for Tom must attend class for the first time in his life. Blue Elk manipulates it so that the boy is brought into town from the wild so that he can become "civilized" in the absence of his parents. Tom hates life in Piedra Town and balks against it. He resents being teased and often gets into fights. Before long, however, he feels forced to succumb to the White manís ways. As a result, he turns his back on his heritage and loses his zest for life.

Part III is entitled "The Arena." When Tom is only fourteen and working as a shepherd, Red Dillon sees his natural ability with horses. As a result, he takes the boy in and teaches him to be a wild bronco rider in the rodeo. Redís purpose is to use Tom to make money for himself. He leads Tom from one rodeo arena to the next, forcing him to lose so that Red can make money on his bets. Tom resents the control that Red has over him but feels he has no way to escape. Then Red dies, and Tom discovers he has nothing else to do but to continue performing in the rodeo; however, his heart is not in the job. Finally, he is thrown from a bronco and seriously injures his leg. The doctor tells him he cannot return to the rodeo ring. Tom is determined to prove the doctor wrong.

The fourth and final section in the novel is entitled "The Mountains." During his recuperation, Tom decides to again work as a shepherd in the mountains near where he grew up. With lots of time to think about his past and sort out his life, he again acknowledges his heritage and decides not to return to the rodeo. The climax occurs in this section, for Tom finally matures into a peaceful, self-confident man after the All-Mother appears to him and claims him as her own.

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